Harmony from the hill state

Peter Marbaniang, Rida Gatphoh and Navackotti PHOTO: V. GANESAN  

“Let me show you a big bum,” says ceramic artist Peter Marbaniang, and there’s not the slightest chuckle. He hands over a CD. Inside is a set of diagrams of traditional music instruments, one of which is called Big Bom (pronounced as bum). “This percussion instrument is made by the villagers of Wahkhen,” elaborates Peter, who is originally from the Khasi Hills, Meghalaya. The other instruments include Padiah (small drum), Maryngod (bow instrument), Duitara (string instrument) and Tamboori (wind instrument, like the Shehnai).

Peter co-founded Dak_ti, a Meghalaya-based brand that works with local craftsmen, along with Rida Gatphoh, a former professor at NIFT, Shillong, and Navackotti, who studied product design at Srishti School of Art Design and Technology, Bangalore.

Seated in Stall 44 at the North East Crafts Bazaar that concludes on Monday (March 21), Rida tells us about the album — an ecological art project. “All the instruments used are traditional, and made by the craftsmen of Meghalaya. Growing up, I observed that most houses in Shillong, a place greatly influenced by Western Music, had a guitar but nobody knew about the traditional ones,” says Rida, who learnt music from her mother Preciously Gatphoh — a radio artiste in the Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya.

In 2010, she started visiting villages to explore the kind of instruments they used. Three years later, she, along with Peter (who plays the duitara) and three other village musicians, performed at ‘Cultures of Peace’ — a festival of the Northeast, featuring music, film screenings, readings and discussions — in New Delhi. Happy with the response, Rida decided to release their music in an album called ‘Rida and the Musical Folks: Musical Nature’. This is available at their stall on the Co-optex Grounds. The songs, written in English and Khasi, appreciate the beauty of Nature and the need to protect it.

Besides music instruments, Rida and team strive hard to preserve the tradition of clay pottery and basket weaving. “The black clay, unlike terracotta, is hard to get. It lies much beneath the terracotta layer under the earth. Also, the resources are limited. We cannot be sure of how long we will be able to fetch this quality of clay, as the mix might change due to climatic conditions,,” says Rida. The number of families practising the skill has also gone down. “Initially, there were two villages; that’s down to one. The number of families into pottery-making has reduced from 15 to five! Why? Because, there is no market for the items. That’s where we come in. We make the products relevant to the times,” she adds. For example, the pots used by the villagers are huge, and ideal for slow cooking of meat. “Now, food habits have changed, and so, we ask them to make small bowls, glasses and plates,” says Peter.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 1:47:33 PM |

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